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Tripura: Royal Scion's Party Likely Dark Horse, CPI-M's Comeback Under BJP Watch

The task is cut out for the Left Front, which governed the state for 25 years till 2018, to do tie up with secular forces and do well in non- tribal areas.

Representational use only.Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Kolkata: Political activity in Tripura, where Assembly elections are due four months hence, is gathering pace and for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won power for the first time in 2018 in association with a small regional tribal outfit, Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), Prime Minister Narendra Modi's proposed visit either on October 27 or 28, would have imparted more tempo had the visit materialised. But the PM’s visit was cancelled as suddenly as it was announced.

NewsClick's interaction with a cross-section of sources indicates that political quarters were trying to read into the Prime Minister's scheduled visit four months before the Assembly elections. The common refrain is that the state BJP is extra-cautious that the sudden dethroning of first chief minister Biplab Deb, who was the party's prominent face in 2018, does not prove damaging; intensive fieldwork of the RSS shakhas notwithstanding.

For the dominant Left force, CPI(M), which has been putting up candidates in over 90% of the 60 constituencies and headed the ministry for 25 years since 1993, the task is cut out – come back to power; if necessary, by tying up with secular, democratic forces.

While keeping that option and expecting expression of interest (EOI) by secular, democratic forces, state party leadership headed by former chief minister Manik Sarkar is acting to a pre-determined plan to win over tribals and non-tribals by regularly holding mass contact programmes and organising protests on issues causing discontent among the people at large.

A drive to activate farmer units in villages has been mounted by the state unit of Krishak Sabha.

Trinamool Congress, which emerged on the scene at the May bye-elections with visible extravagance and tall claims about capturing power in 2023, is just not visible currently. After the debacle at the by-polls, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee's brass sacked the state unit president Subal Bhowmik. According to Agartala-based journalist Sudip Nath, TMC has a camp office whenever either West Bengal TMC leader Rajib Banerjee or Assam's Susmita Deb, rewarded with a RajyaSabha seat after quitting Congress, visit Tripura as caretaker in charge.

Asked about the leadership's thinking, Bhowmik told NewsClick, "All I can say is that I am still in TMC as a primary member. I will decide about my next move after Diwali."

There is speculation in state political circles that he may rejoin BJP, from where he went to TMC.

Tripura Congress president Birajit Sinha told NewsClick, "We will not allow BJP a second inning; they have done enough damage. Their divisive politics has disrupted social amity."

Asked about tying up with the Left, Sinha said he wouldn't say anything at the moment. Matters should crystallise at the right moment. After the victory at the bye-elections of Sudip Roy Barman, the party has one MLA, who had rejoined Congress. Unending defections to BJP and TMC have left the once-ruling party very weak.

New Tripura BJP president Rajiv Bhattacharjee, who took over on September 25, said his main task is to make party workers, old and new, to the plunge and work in the field to connect with the electorate.

"BJP is a karyakartas' party; they are dedicated. Of course, the party, having been in power for over four-and-a-half years, workers' expectations have gone up. But I have firmly conveyed to the workers that corruption won't be tolerated under any circumstance," Bhattacharjee told NewsClick. He said he is confident the ideological tilt that the state witnessed in 2018 would be carried forward and the good work the ministry has done would help BJP defend power.

Assistant professor of political science at Ram Krishna Mahavidyalaya at Unakoti, Sasanka Ghosh, believes that the government has been able to fulfil quite a few of the election-time promises the leadership had made. Connectivity has improved with the execution of several infrastructure projects. The pension has been hiked to Rs 2,000 from Rs 700 in two instalments. MSP has been introduced, and DBT (direct benefits transfer) has been streamlined, Ghosh pointed out. But rural areas have not seen much development. Law and order remain an issue; much of it often is because of tribal-non-tribal friction. Also, intra-party rivalry and ego clashes among mid and lower-level leaders remain a cause of concern for the top brass.

BJP has a question mark over its continued association with IPFT, which won eight seats in 2018. Tribals constitute its main support base, and in recent months there have been perceptible desertions to Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (Tipra) led by royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma. IPFT's strength in the Assembly, too, has gone down. It remains to be seen how BJP copes with this deficiency. More desertions are not ruled out. Will BJP like to have a decimated ally? Will it seek a replacement? Will it make it alone? Answers to these questions will be available as the political scenario clarifies in the weeks ahead, say informed sources.

Senior state CPI(M) leader and head of state Krishak Sabha Pabitra Kar told NewsClick, "We have galvanised the organisation through regular mass contact programmes in recent months, despite BJP workers' disruptive tactics. Political programmes will be further intensified from January. The economic content of the manifesto has been discussed threadbare. The political part will be taken up in the coming days. The livelihood and welfare of the estimated five lakh farmer families will be given particular attention in the manifesto. As for an understanding and seat sharing with secular forces, we will welcome EOI, say from Congress."

Asked to assess the BJP regime, former principal of Ram Krishna Mahavidyalaya and professor of defence and strategic studies at Bir Bikram Memorial College, Debabrata Goswami, said, "Large sections of people are disenchanted; suicides and 'sale in distress' of children have been reported from different parts of the state. Rubber plantations have witnessed tension between ethnic groups. There has been deterioration in the law and order situation. Tripura badly needs social harmony, and it has to be the job of an administration committed to social welfare. It is an extremely backward state."

The dark horse in the Tripura poll sweepstakes may well be Tipra Motha of royal scion Pradyot Kishore Debbarma, whose aim is to have a 'Greater Tipraland', which many see as an extension of IPFT's cherished Tipraland. Tribal youths are getting attracted to the royal scion's regional outfit, which explains the weakening of IPFT.

Further, Tipra Motha did well in the April 2021 elections to Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council, where it bagged 18 out of 28 elective seats (two members are nominated by the Governor). This also makes CPI(M's) task of regaining its support base among tribals, who determine the fate of candidates in 20 seats. CPI(M) has to do well in the non-tribal areas with 40 Assembly seats.

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